THE Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has revealed how a helicopter operated by the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) crashed at Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Airport in Bauchi, Nigeria, on January 26, 2022.
The AIB also released preliminary reports on three other serious incidents involving United Nigeria Airlines (UNA), Max Air and Air Peace aircraft.
The report by the Bureau said the Bell 429 helicopter with registration mark 5N-MDA departed the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, (DNAA) to Maiduguri at 17:54 hours.
The crew planned for the chopper to observe a “technical stop” at Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Airport, Bauchi (DNBC). It had on board six persons, comprising three crew members (pilot, co-pilot and engineer) and three passengers, with a fuel endurance of three hours.
On getting to Jos, it attempted to establish contact with the Jos tower but was unsuccessful after several tries. It then continued to Bauchi as stated in the plan for its technical stopover.
It added that even when the chopper was abeam Jos airport at 18:40 hours, it attempted again to establish a two-way communication with the Jos tower, which was another effort in futility.
At 18:46 hours, the helicopter again attempted to establish initial contact with the Bauchi tower but did not get through. It even continued to try when it got to the Bauchi Control Zone boundary, but still got no contact. It prepared to land despite realising that the terminal was closed. Unfortunately for the crew, they discovered darkness five nautical miles into Bauchi airport. They then braced to land in the airport, using the Global Positioning System (GPS).
The report read, “According to the crew, 5N-MDA consistently tried to raise Bauchi Tower at five-minute intervals until the time she reached Bauchi Control Zone boundary, with still no contact. Thereafter, 5N-MDA continued with preparations for landing with the belief that even if the tower was closed, provided the airport was illuminated, they could land.
“The crew further stated that at five nautical miles to DNBC, there was no sign of any lighting at the airport as the entire airport was in complete darkness. 5N-MDA descended to 3,000 feet and positioned for the runway centreline using Global Positioning System (GPS).
“They came over the runway and the Pilot Monitoring (PM) was able to have a visual contact with the runway centreline, but soon after, the PM lost the visual contact with the centreline due to darkness and, therefore, called for a Go Around (GA). The Pilot Flying (PF) responded and initiated the Go Around, while the PM pressed the GA button. 5N-MDA executed two Go Around with intention to land, but due to lack of airfield lighting and darkness, the crew could not sight the runway.”
The crew explained that the darkness and lack of airfield lighting did not allow them see a tree on the flight path. This was also not detected by the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) nor the Terrain Awareness Warning System (TAWS), which they verified were functional prior to the flight.
The report also revealed that the aural warning system in the aircraft did not indicate the chopper was approaching any obstacle. In addition to all of this, the duty officer at the Bauchi airport control tower closed at 19:00 hours, as he was not informed of any more flights coming into the airport.
In a move to avoid the tree, one of the helicopter’s main rotor blades hit the branches of the tree, while its tail rotor struck the tree at 19:47 hours. In the midst of the crash, the chopper connected with the Bauchi tower but was already damaged. The AIB noted that the crew escaped unhurt.
“At that moment when the skid of the helicopter had contact with the ground, Bauchi tower called 5N-MDA on radio ‘Aircraft calling Bauchi tower’, and the PM replied ‘we are on ground.’
“Bauchi Tower further asked, ‘confirm on ground air force side?’, but the crew did not respond. The crew and passengers disembarked without injury. The accident occurred at about 19:47 hours, night time, in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC),” the report read.
The report revealed that the main rotor blade, tail bloom, tail rotor shaft and ride side aft passenger window, among others, were significantly affected.
It issued four safety recommendations each to the Nigerian Police Air Wing (NPAW) and the Nigerian Aerospace Management Agency (NAMA).
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) was also issued three safety recommendations.
At the time of the incident, the Police Public Relations Officer, Commissioner of Police Frank Mba, debunked the report that the police aircraft was involved in an accident.
“The aircraft did not crash as being reported in some sections of the media, and none of the occupants sustained any injury whatsoever.
“All six on board, including the pilot and co-pilot, are in good condition,” according to a statement received by The ICIR.
“Similarly, the aircraft, which was flown by one of the best Police pilots, was professionally safe-landed with minor damage on the rear rotor as a result of an obstacle at the landing spot,” it added.